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From Langlade County, Wisconsin to Zurich, Switzerland

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Specialist Rachel Fancsali for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.

You now know that Snapshot Wisconsin has contributed to important research not only statewide, but also nationwide with Snapshot USA. But did you know that over the past year and half, Snapshot Wisconsin has been contributing to an international collaborative art exhibit?

One Snapshot volunteer took on the challenge of running a special camera trap to contribute to the University of Zurich Graduate Campus’s Triggered by Motion project. The project will be creating an immersive, walk-through pavilion where visitors will be able to experience the biodiversity of wildlife from 14 countries around the world, and video footage of north woods Wisconsin wildlife will be on display for the world to see!

Connecting Science, Art, and the Public

The University of Zurich (UZH) Graduate Campus focuses on engaging with the public through events and exhibitions, utilizing its cross-faculty platform to create collaborative exhibitions that connect science, art and the public. The project Triggered by Motion is one of several collaboration projects that will be featured in the overarching Planet Digital exhibition, which explores the digital transformation of our world.

In the field of wildlife research, trail cameras are an excellent example of digital transformation in research. As many Snapshot volunteers already know, trail cameras are a non-invasive method, allowing a glimpse of wildlife behind the scenes. The goal of the Triggered by Motion project is to give a unique perspective on how researchers use camera traps to learn about the world, bringing the audience closer to this research method.

Each trail camera video for the project will condense a year’s worth of footage into a 20-minute time-lapse. Then the videos will be synchronized, so that daylight will slowly move from one screen to the other, circling around the pavilion to imitate the rotation of the earth.

In June 2020, UZH was referred to Snapshot Wisconsin. At the time, there was another trail camera in southern California, but UZH was looking to diversify its North American captures. The teams from UZH and Snapshot Wisconsin were able to connect and discuss the possibility of Snapshot Wisconsin participating in the international project.

Snapshot Wisconsin checked all the boxes for Triggered by Motion: it’s a well-established project, located in the northern half of the U.S. and operates year-round. Also, the cameras that Snapshot uses normally take still photos that fulfill the project’s data needs, but they are capable of capturing video footage. What really set Snapshot Wisconsin apart from other Triggered by Motion participants is our program’s applied research focus, with Snapshot data contributing to wildlife decision support.

With that, Snapshot Wisconsin became a part of the Triggered by Motion project. Now it was up to the Snapshot team to find a volunteer and set the modified camera.

A red fox walking in the snow

Finding a Volunteer and a Camera Site

When it came time to choose a Snapshot volunteer to work with UZH, volunteer coordinator Claire Viellieux knew just the right person. “I met Blayne Zeise at the last in-person volunteer recognition event in 2019, and he has a good record of checking cameras and uploading in a timely manner,” Viellieux said.

After talking with Viellieux, Blayne Zeise was happy to help. “I had actually asked her at the volunteer event about adding another camera anyways,” Zeise said.

Zeise had already been running his own personal trail cameras on public lands for a couple of years before joining the Snapshot Wisconsin program in 2018. “I started out with a couple of $30 cameras from Walmart and started using them on public lands, then worked my way up from there,” Zeise said. He heard about Snapshot Wisconsin through some of Snapshot’s yearly advertising and decided to give it a try. “I thought it would be nice to have a better-quality camera with a lockbox on it, especially on public land,” Zeise said.

Zeise is very familiar with several public lands in the Marathon and southern Langlade County areas. His own cameras have been monitoring wildlife by river crossings on the Red River in Langlade County and Plover River in Marathon County. Zeise monitors his Snapshot Wisconsin camera in a fishery area just south of Antigo in Langlade County.

This familiarity with the landscape was a huge factor in Zeise’s decision on where to put the camera. “It’s mostly birds and deer at the river crossings,” says Zeise, “but there’s a larger diversity of animals at the other site [the fishery area].”

However, while biodiversity of the location was a large factor, it wasn’t the only one. Zeise knew that he may have to check batteries more often with capturing video footage, making it imperative that the location is easily accessible in all seasons. “The location I picked is a short hike, and there is still a lot of animals that pass through there,” Zeise said.

A Rough Start

Unfortunately, right off the bat, there were some roadblocks to deployment.

When setting up a Snapshot camera for filming at the office, Viellieux noticed the camera couldn’t meet the criteria set by UZH. To avoid motion blur and distortion once on the big screen exhibit, the video footage needed to be captured in 60 full frames per second with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. The Snapshot Wisconsin cameras, suitable for Snapshot Wisconsin’s research objectives that uses a large photo database, were not designed to meet that high of criteria for filming. Zeise tried one of his own personal cameras as well, but also had no luck.

UZH staff still wanted Zeise and Snapshot Wisconsin to be a part of the project, so they purchased and mailed a camera for Zeise to set up. After a small setback getting the UZH camera to film at appropriate times, Zeise’s next challenge was monitoring the camera’s battery pack with the extra demand filming had on battery life. “It just sucks up so much energy doing 30 second video every half hour during the day, and 15 second video at night,” said Zeise.

Most other Triggered by Motion trap sites were using solar packs to power the cameras. Zeise’s concern with this solution was how easy it would be for someone to walk off with the solar pack, especially being located on public lands. For most of the year, it was not difficult at the fishery area to change the rechargeable batteries that most Snapshot Wisconsin cameras use. With the rechargeable batteries, Zeise had to change them every three days.

Zeise’s main battery challenge would be in the north woods’ snowy and bitter winters; changing the rechargeable batteries every three days, or more frequently because of the cold, was not going to be efficient.  He made the switch to lithium batteries, which meant changing batteries every two weeks. “Better than trudging through the snow!” Zeise joked.

Once the weather warmed back up, Zeise switched back to the rechargeable batteries. The system worked well for the year that Zeise collected data.

A buck looking at the camera

Capturing the Best of Wisconsin Wildlife

Zeise’s decision to record at the fishery area was spot on. A large variety of species were seen in the video clips including bear, bobcat, foxes, deer, coyotes and more. Zeise also saw a few neat interactions between species, such as the apparent squabble between a ruffed grouse and a pileated woodpecker (see screen capture below). UZH would also occasionally ask Zeise to confirm what animal was captured. “One time they asked me, ‘what are those really blue colored birds?’, said Zeise. “They were blue jays! I guess they don’t have them over there [in Switzerland].”

What Zeise found most interesting about using video is being able to see how animals used the area. “I was really surprised by how much the deer relied on that area for browsing,” Zeise said. “I even asked Emily [at Snapshot] if there was a way to ID the plants that the deer were using. She recommended a plant ID app, and I was able to ID species such as black ash, bitternut hickory, and black walnut.”

Operating a different kind of camera also brought new findings. “I was kind of surprised with the video that the coyotes were not spooked by it. With some of the Snapshot Wisconsin cameras, they hear the click and just about jump out of their skin,” Zeise observed.

The UZH camera, a Bushnell Dual Core No-Glow, is designed to remain inconspicuous. “They call it a no-glow, but it’s really like a hard black plastic filter to help hide the infrared. The coyotes and foxes probably see it, but the deer may not,” said Zeise.

Grouse-Pileated-Woodpecker

What Now?

With the completion of data collection, UZH was able to construct the exhibit. The project ended with 22 camera traps in 14 countries around the world, enlisting the help of 29 researchers and seven citizen-scientists to monitor the traps. The Triggered by Motion project is at the very center of the Planet Digital exhibition, and the physical exhibition premiered Feb. 11, 2022 at Museum für Gestaltung Zürich. The exhibition will stay at the museum until June, when it will be packed up and shown across the world. The dates and locations of the traveling exhibit are still to be determined.

However, a digital publication of the entire Planet Digital exhibition is available, and the Triggered by Motion project page can be viewed here.

Hopefully, the exhibit will make its way to the U.S. at some point, and we can walk through Snapshot Wisconsin and Zeise’s contribution to an international project! “If it travels to the U.S., I would definitely like to go see it in person,” said Zeise. “I think that was one of the coolest parts, just to be a part of a big project, with three locations in the U.S and over 20 worldwide.”

“I get to keep the camera too,” Zeise said, “It’s a pretty sweet deal.” Zeise mentioned he already has plans for the camera, including deploying it at one of the river crossings he monitors. There’s a spot where a lot of blue heron hang out, and he wants to capture that action.

The Snapshot team is honored to have played a part in connecting Zeise with this international project, and we are lucky to have great volunteers, willing to go beyond just hosting a Snapshot camera.

A big thank you goes to Blayne Zeise for all his help and really taking the reins on monitoring an extra special camera!

View the entire Planet Digital exhibition here.

A Thank-you and Farewell from Team Member Michael Kamp

Most of the writing about Snapshot Wisconsin focuses on what the project does for the Wisconsin DNR and the wildlife of Wisconsin or the incredible work of the project’s dedicated volunteers. This makes sense as all are very important aspects of Snapshot Wisconsin. However, for this blog post, I’m going to write about what Snapshot gave to me as a team member and the experience of working for the Snapshot team.

My name is Michael Kamp, and I’ve been with Snapshot Wisconsin a little over two years. Throughout my time, I’ve worked on many different aspects of the project. I’ve done fieldwork, purchasing, equipment shipping, photo classifications and multiple communication pieces for the project. However, I’ll be leaving my position with Snapshot at the end of January to focus on finishing up grad school at UW-Madison this semester. Then I’ll be heading to Ecuador for the summer to work for the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation. I want to say thank you to my teammates for making Snapshot a great experience for me.

Kamp_Michael

But first, let’s rewind to the fall of 2019. That September, I returned to my hometown of Madison after a stint working for The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island. I was applying to new positions in the natural resources and conservation realm. I had never heard of Snapshot Wisconsin but applied for a position with the project. Fortunately, I was given an opportunity to interview and then was offered the position. I immediately accepted the job, which also included some administrative responsibilities for our whole office, the Office of Applied Science (OAS).

Certainly, I was excited for my position with Snapshot and OAS, but I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how lucky I was and how transformative the next couple years would be. I grew a lot professionally and personally over my time with Snapshot Wisconsin.

First off, I joined a fantastic team with Snapshot Wisconsin. Throughout all my working experiences, I’ve been continually reminded of the importance of having a great team. Being part of a strong team, I’m motivated to work for my team members and challenge myself. A truly cohesive team makes the difference between a good and great job in my opinion. The Snapshot team made me feel welcome starting on day one with a welcome meeting, and it only improved from there.

While COVID swept through the world shortly afterwards in March 2020, I already had a solid foundation with my teammates. Having this team was super helpful over the course of the pandemic which as we all know is an ongoing challenge. Even if only on a small square on Zoom, I enjoyed seeing my teammates faces.

So, what are some skills I learned from Snapshot? Well, I can now look at very blurry trail camera images and generally identify the animal captured with confidence. I don’t know how transferable this skill will be to other positions if I don’t work with trail camera photos. Nonetheless, I can chalk this up on my resume as “attention to detail.”

I also gained experience in the behind-the-scenes work needed to make a project like Snapshot successful. Communication and organization are essential when gathering the trail cameras and associated equipment. Sending new volunteers’ equipment and replacing any malfunctioning equipment is a big lift, especially with over 1,700 volunteers. We have to send equipment to all corners of the state.

Furthermore, I learned that trail camera photos are a great way to spark an interest in nature. When people asked what my job was, if possible, I simply showed them trail camera photos. People were amazed at all the wildlife that roam Wisconsin, and Snapshot gave them a perfect viewing window. The 50 Million Photo Celebration is an ideal product to showcase beautiful trail camera photos from bear cubs to displaying turkeys.

Coming into this position with birding experience, I became the default bird guy. If there were any bird identification questions regarding trail camera photos, they came to my desk so to speak. Don’t get me wrong – I was quite happy with the arrangement. I was glad to put my bird expertise to use and share it with my colleagues. Snapshot captures mostly ground dwelling birds, but we captured some great warbler photos and even snapped a yellow-billed cuckoo in flight.

What will I take away from this job? A few things come to mind. Snapshot Wisconsin reinforced the idea that teamwork is essential. Wherever I end up in the future, I want to be part of a great team. I also learned the importance of taking advantage of opportunities in your position. For example, I jumped at every chance to complete fieldwork for Snapshot in the reintroduced elk grids. I gained valuable experience using GPS units and determining suitable spots for trail cameras. Many interesting webinars came into my inbox as well, and I attended when able. I continued learning through my whole tenure with Snapshot Wisconsin.

Another takeaway was the value of setting up trail cameras. After joining the team, I set up a trail camera on my family’s land in Vilas County. What a great decision that was! We have stunning photos of red fox, bobcats, and barred owls to name a few. Trail cameras provide a window into the outdoors that can deepen your connection to the land.

At the end of the day, I simply want to say thank you to all my great coworkers. I’m very grateful that my path wound its way to you all and for the experiences we shared together. Honestly, it’s difficult to leave Snapshot, but the time has come for me to move on. Whenever I think back on Snapshot, it will be with a smile. (Even when thinking of the times I had to prepare what felt like endless FedEx shipments). I look forward to seeing how Snapshot continues to grow.

And for my teammates, if you have any bird identification questions in the future, let me know. You’ve got my number.

-Michael Kamp

From Testing Cameras in Her Backyard to a Statewide Monitoring Program

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator Ryan Bower for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.

Jen Stenglein, Quantitative Research Scientist at the Wisconsin DNR and one of the longest-serving Snapshot staff members, walks us through the early years of the program and how Snapshot Wisconsin expanded into the massive project that it is today.

If you are a newer Snapshot volunteer, then here is your chance to learn more about the program’s early history. For those who lived much of the history firsthand (especially the early adopters), this article might be a trip down memory lane. Either way, we hope you get something from this recounting of the past and connect more strongly with the program.

A Grant and a Collaboration

Snapshot Wisconsin’s origin stems from a NASA grant that the University of Wisconsin-Madison received in 2013. The grant aimed to lay the groundwork for a citizen science program for monitoring wildlife that would be launched by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Soon after, the DNR created Snapshot Wisconsin and started what would become a massive project.

Stenglein got involved while the project was still in the planning phase. “I was finishing my PhD at the time in Madison, WI and heard about the project. Thanks to my connection with the university, I already knew many of the major players involved,” said Stenglein. “Some of the initial project planning happened before I came in, so the project was basically waiting for someone to figure out the logistics.”

What cameras should volunteers use? How should the cameras be set up to capture the best photos? How would they get equipment to volunteers and train them? There were many questions and fewer answers.

A doe and two fawns

2014: Figuring out the Logistics

In 2014, Stenglein began to answer these questions by running tests in her backyard. “I had a whole line of cameras set up in my backyard, each a different model. We also had cameras out behind the DNR building [to test a second location]. There were so many questions we needed to answer,” recalled Stenglein.

At the time, the Snapshot team was comprised of only two people: Stenglein and Christine Anhalt-Depies, the current project coordinator for Snapshot Wisconsin. Stenglein was working on the program full-time, while Anhalt-Depies was devoting half her time to support Snapshot Wisconsin. Piece by piece, they ran tests and figured out what cameras and setup the first volunteers would use.

Stenglein recalled figuring out other logistics too like where the cameras would go. “I remember looking at a map of Wisconsin and making the decision to divide townships into quarters. That would be our grid setup,” said Stenglein. “Those grid blocks were about the right size [roughly nine square miles] for what we wanted and left space for over 6,000 cameras around the state. That sounded like a doable maximum.”

By the end of the year, Stenglein and Anhalt-Depies had finished enough of the equipment testing to put their plan to the test, starting with Wisconsin’s elk herd.

2015: The First True Test

Elk at the time were just being reintroduced in Wisconsin. There was one small, existing elk population (reintroduced from Michigan), but that population hadn’t taken off how people hoped. A second effort was being set up to bring Kentucky elk to Wisconsin, and those elk were coming in just as Snapshot became ready to test out their program.

“We thought it would be a really great opportunity to test Snapshot Wisconsin on a known population. All of the elk were radio-collared, [so we knew how many were being added to the area.] It was a perfect test to see how well our equipment and methods would hold up,” said Stenglein.

But of course, things didn’t go perfectly as planned. One near miss stood out to Stenglein and captured some of the hecticness of getting the program up and running.

“We almost didn’t have the cameras in time,” explained Stenglein. The camera delivery came in late on the same day that we were scheduled to set up the cameras. “We already had folks waiting in the field, and I had to plead with the delivery driver [to prioritize delivering our cameras].” There were some near misses like that, but Stenglein said they worked through them all in the end.

By the end of the year, a few hundred cameras had been deployed across the elk zones, and the program was officially running. Volunteers now ran the cameras, and images were starting to stream in.

Two bull elk clashing antlers

2016: Expanding the Program

Once the team felt they were in a solid routine, they started thinking about expanding Snapshot to more of the state. “It was nice to have the elk grid up and running already, because we knew how the logistics would function,” said Stenglein.

The Snapshot team focused on recruiting educators, even seeking out a couple grants to build collaborations with different educator groups. “Educators seemed like a good place to start, because they affect so many people in their daily life,” said Stenglein. “They could help us reach more people faster.”

To start, the team mainly accepted volunteers from only two Wisconsin counties: Sawyer and Iowa Counties. “We heard from lots of people [around the state] who were excitedly awaiting enrollment, but we wanted to roll things out slowly [to work out any new kinks in the process]. For example, we didn’t want to have a bunch of people getting equipment, only to be frustrated by the IT system not working properly yet,” said Stenglein.

Stenglein and the team were enrolling volunteers at a steady pace, but volunteers had to attend an in-person training session before they received their equipment. Since the team was still only three to four people, there were a limited number of trainings offered. That bottleneck kept the expansion to a manageable pace.

The project was going well though. By the end of 2016, Snapshot had expanded to nine counties (adding Iron, Jackson, Manitowoc, Waupaca, Dodge, Racine and Vernon Counties). The IT infrastructure was working properly, supporting the in-flow of data. All of the planning that Stenglein and the team did was starting to pay off.

The team even launched their first first season of photos on Zooniverse, the crowd-sourcing platform. “Zooniverse was just an itty-bitty platform back then,” joked Stenglein, “but it helped us process photos much faster than we could have without it.”

2017: Growth and Rare Species Detections

Just as 2016 saw a growth to nine counties accepting volunteers, 2017 saw a similar growth. By the end of the year, one quarter of the state’s counties, or 18 in total, were accepting volunteers. St. Croix, Oneida, Marinette, Clark, Dane, Grant, Marathon, Rusk and Taylor counties were all added to the list in 2017. Additionally, over 1,000 volunteers had joined the program by this point, and the program was accepting volunteers even faster than before.

Coverage of the state was starting to fill in enough to be useful from a data perspective. For example, the Snapshot program saw its first rare species detection in 2017. It was a moose from Price County. “I remember it was really exciting because we were waiting for a rare species,” said Stenglein. The team quickly saw more rare species detections in rapid succession too, including a marten and whooping crane. “That whooping crane was extra exciting because we could ID the individual [from the colored bands on its legs] and learn more about it,” added Stenglein.

A whooping crane with colored bands on its legs

2018: Gearing up for a Statewide Launch

Up until early-2018, the Snapshot team was adding counties to spread out coverage across the state. However, by March 2018, there were 26 counties involved. “At that point, adding counties was getting arbitrary,” said Stenglein. “Most areas of the state had at least one county involved already.” It was time to start accepting volunteers from all 72 counties: a true statewide launch.

Many improvements to the team and infrastructure had smoothed out most of the kinks in the system. The team had grown in size, and that additional capacity helped speed up onboarding of new volunteers. A new version of the cameras was also being used, which took fewer blank photos, and training had moved online to cut down on staff travel times. Everything was giving a green light for launch.

On August 9th, Snapshot Wisconsin officially launched statewide. Stenglein said the statewide launch was when it felt like Snapshot truly hit its stride. “I really felt like that point in time was pivotal for the project.”

Immediately after the statewide launch, the size of the program exploded. The team was able to accept much of the backlog of volunteers that had previously been unable to join the program. In 2018 alone, over 1,200 volunteers and 1,174 new trail cameras were added to the project, almost doubling Snapshot’s size.

2019: More Staff and a Slew of Publications

To compensate for the doubling of the volunteer base, four new Snapshot positions were added to the team, and Anhalt-Depies took over as the project coordinator. The added support was very timely because the program continued to expand as more and more volunteers joined.

Additionally, enough data had come in by this point that the team (especially Stenglein) could start publishing their findings.

The program had already been generating data for the management of certain species, including generating fawn-to-doe ratios for deer and population estimates for each elk herd. However, until 2019, the project hadn’t published any peer-reviewed publications.

In a flurry, five scholarly publications were released in 2019 by the Snapshot Wisconsin team or one of the graduate students working with the program. Five publications in a single year is substantial, but it meant something extra to the Snapshot team.

“It was great to [finally] show the work we’d done on the data side of Snapshot,” said Stenglein. “In some ways, it took longer than we expected, because we thought that we’d have stuff to share right away. However, Snapshot’s value is the accumulation of data and the time series we’ve built up over the years, so it was appropriate that it took some time to get to the first publication.”

A raccoon mom and several young

2020: An Important Year for Snapshot

2020 was a weird but important year for Snapshot. According to Stenglein, the team didn’t slow down much in 2020. In fact, many important milestones happened this year. The first of which was a huge boom of activity on Zooniverse.

People suddenly had more free time than usual, and many people used that time to classify photos on Zooniverse. Snapshot Wisconsin’s page saw substantially more users (and specifically new users) than normal. No surprise that photos were being classified faster as well. In fact, the team even had to adjust staff responsibilities to make sure there were photos on the platform. What a great problem to have, right?

Another exciting change during 2020 was the release of the Snapshot Wisconsin Data Dashboard, an interactive tool that lets the public play with Snapshot data. Anyone could explore the data of 19 Wisconsin species and see where (and when) each species was detected.

Stenglein said that releasing a product like the Data Dashboard had been the plan from the beginning, but the team didn’t originally know what form it would take. “Open data has been an important goal of the project, especially because of our collaboration with NASA and the University of Wisconsin.” It just took time to figure out what form the product would take and to make sure the data were accurate enough.

Most of our volunteers will know that Snapshot Wisconsin also reached a total of 50 million photos near the end of 2020. That is an impressive amount of data to receive and process. According to Stenglein, this milestone meant that Snapshot was finally a “big project.”

“It meant that we had the data that we wanted, and everything was working. There was a big sense of accomplishment, and for me, it meant that all that planning had paid off,” said Stenglein.

The fact that so many milestones happened in 2020 speaks to the sustained efforts of our volunteer base. Stenglein said, “The volunteers totally rallied and continued to bring the data in. That kept the project going. The fact that volunteers kept checking their cameras and classifying photos was big for us. Thank you.”

Reflecting on the Past

As the end of 2021 inches closer, the team reflected on where they’ve come as a program since Stenglein’s backyard experiments in 2014. They remember the near-miss with the elk cameras and the statewide launch in 2018. They remember the first rare species detection and the release of the first public-facing data visualization product, the Data Dashboard.

It has taken a lot of work to get to this point, both from our staff and our volunteers. The team wants to thanks its volunteers for their contributions over the years, whether you just joined or have been with us since the beginning. Every classification matters, just as all of our volunteers matter to us. Thank you for seven years of excitement and support!

The 2020 Data Are Now Available on the Data Dashboard

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator Ryan Bower for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.

The Snapshot Team is happy to announce that the data from 2020 are now available on the Data Dashboard. Explore the 2020 dataset yourself today!

Snapshot’s Data Dashboard is a data visualization tool that lets the public interact with the data collected from over 2,000 trail cameras spread across the state. The Data Dashboard first was made available to the public in October 2020 and showcased the data of 18 species. Since then, an additional species have been added to the list, and the Snapshot Team plans to add more over time.

One of the unique features of the dashboard is that it lets people choose which data they want to visualize. You can look at data from individual years by selecting the desired date range on the slider along the left side of the dashboard. Four distinct years (2017-2020) are available to peruse. When a new date range is selected, the map of Wisconsin will update and show only the data for the selected dates, allowing anyone to see trends over time.

Check out the 2020 data on Snapshot Wisconsin’s Data Dashboard:
https://widnr-snapshotwisconsin.shinyapps.io/DataDashboard

New Team Member

Hi everyone! I’m Jessica Knackert, one of the newest additions to the Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer management team. Before coming to the DNR, I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I studied zoology, science communication, and environmental studies. I engaged in a lot of great opportunities to share science with the public during my undergraduate career. I wrote numerous articles on research related to climate change, urban canids, and biotechnology. I also provided hands-on demonstrations at community science events focused on culturing stem cells and caring for non-human primates.

jessica-bio-picture-3

Outside of science outreach, I was a research assistant for the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at UW-Madison. I supported a graduate student examining the impact of an African lion reintroduction in Akagera National Park, Rwanda. This project fell in the same realm of wildlife research as Snapshot Wisconsin by using trail cameras to monitor animal populations and behavior. I also worked at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Being a part of the visitor services department gave me the chance to interact with thousands of guests from all over the nation each day. This role also allowed me to broaden the Zoo’s guided tour program by incorporating topics like conservation, wildlife research, and animal enrichment.

Akagera_giraffe

Giraffe from Akagera National Park (https://www.africanparks.org/the-parks/akagera)

Working for a project like Snapshot Wisconsin provides the perfect opportunity to combine my experience in both the research and outreach sides of science. While I loved classifying photos of iconic African wildlife halfway across the world, I’m eager to refamiliarize myself with the diversity of species that live closer to home. I’m also excited to apply my training in science communication to expand upon and diversify educator outreach for the project. Snapshot Wisconsin is a great way for people of all ages to gain first-hand experience in learning the scientific process. Greater educator participation would allow students across the state to explore Wisconsin’s great outdoors while engaging with DNR professionals and other community members when inside the classroom.

Snapshot and Satellites: A Creative Pairing

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator Ryan Bower for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.

A few months ago, the Snapshot team said farewell to someone who has worked with the Snapshot Wisconsin team for several years. John Clare, a former graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, completed his PhD in December, 2020 and has moved on to a post-doctoral position at the University of California-Berkley.

While completing his doctoral degree, Clare worked in Drs. Ben Zuckerberg and Phil Townsend’s labs, and his research has helped push Snapshot Wisconsin to the next level, expanding the capabilities and reach of Snapshot Wisconsin. Although he played a behind-the-scenes role, one of a few students studying how to use Snapshot data in new and useful ways, his contributions to the team are appreciated, so the Snapshot team decided to share a piece of his research with those of you who follow this newsletter.

Clare first connected with Snapshot Wisconsin when current Snapshot team leader, Jen Stenglein, got in touch. Stenglein, Quantitative Research Scientist at the DNR and a leading member on the data analysis side of Snapshot Wisconsin, was interested in the sampling parameters of Clare’s Masters research, which also dealt with trail cameras. Stenglein hoped to learn from that project and apply lessons to Snapshot Wisconsin.

“I didn’t know about Snapshot Wisconsin until after talking with [Stenglein],” said Clare. “I later saw a posting for a PhD assistantship related to the program, and I applied. That is how I first got involved.”

Two beavers interacting in a stream

Two beavers captured on a Snapshot WI trail camera in Ashland County.

Clare was one of the first graduate students working with the project. He initially helped get the program up, and later he started to sort through the data and deliver some useful results.

While we don’t have the space to cover everything he worked on for his dissertation, Clare and the Snapshot team wanted to share a small piece of Clare’s research with the volunteer community and showcase part of how Clare contributed to the project.

Leveraging Snapshot Data

A central goal of Clare’s dissertation was to develop strategies to better leverage the spatial and temporal capabilities of the Snapshot database. Clare mentioned that two unique features of Snapshot Wisconsin are that Snapshot operates both statewide and year-round. Many other monitoring programs can’t operate at such wide and long scales because it would be too resource intensive for them. Fortunately, Snapshot has the help of thousands of people across Wisconsin (and the globe) to overcome that resource barrier and operate statewide and year-round.

“[Using data from all over the state and from all times of the year], we can explore questions in ways we didn’t have the ability to before,” said Clare, and Clare investigated a few of these questions in his dissertation. Two of Clare’s research questions were what broad factors drive where species are distributed and how species are active across the year.

To answer both questions, Clare needed to build a special type of model that leveraged both spatial and temporal data at the same time. Not an easy feat.

Setting Up Clare’s Model

Clare needed a unique model that could account for how species are spatially distributed around the state and temporally distributed throughout the year. “I think it’s important to take advantage of both the spatial and temporal components at the same time,” said Clare. “The question isn’t just where are species located, but also how species are distributed at time x, time y and time z.”

Both the spatial and temporal scales were needed because there are components of the environment that vary strongly across space and time. Snow depth, for example, is not fixed over the course of the year. One week, there may be six inches, and the next week there may be twelve. Snow depth also varies spatially. A few miles could be the difference between seeing snow on the ground or not. Many environmental factors are highly dynamic and variable like this, so Clare needed to think of these factors within a model that accounts for both.

It is common for models to use one type of data but incorporating both is a challenge. The main challenge is having enough data (and data of the right types) to run this kind of analysis. Fortunately, Snapshot images have both location and time data attached to each image.

A doe and two turkeys in a field

Another unique aspect of Clare’s model is that it considers multiple species at once. “We were pretty sure that individual species are distributed dynamically throughout space and time, but entire communities have not been heavily studied in the same way,” Clare said. “The appeal of using a spatial-temporal structure across the entire community is that we can explore which species are interacting with others at different parts of the state and at different times of the year.”

This concept isn’t new to the realm of modeling, but it is hard to accomplish. Researchers would need separate data for each additional species they added in the model. It can be hard enough getting data for one species, let alone multiple. However, that is where Snapshot shines best. Volunteers can tag up to 50 unique species in their Snapshot photos, so an equal number of species-specific datasets can be pulled and created from the larger Snapshot dataset.

“The advantage of a multispecies approach is that you can take into account the responses of each of those species, as opposed to modeling one species and assuming the results apply uniformly for other species,” said Clare.

Driving Distribution and Activity

Knowing he had the ability to answer his questions, Clare thought about which factors might be most influential across the entire community, in terms of predicting where species were located and how active they are. “We had a couple ideas about what these factors might be,” said Clare. “Some were related to seasonal variation like the amount of snow and the greenness of the vegetation.”

Snow depth can change substantially from day to day, even during the winter. Snow depth could dramatically impact how species move around and where food is available. Snow can even correlate to which species are even seen during parts of the year. For example, black bear behavior is often related to the winter, and thus with snow.

Wisconsin’s black bears sleep through the winter. Since winter is also associated with snow, black bear activity inversely correlates well (in Clare’s model) with snow. When there’s more snow on the ground, we are (most likely) deep into winter and see the least activity from black bears.

Bear_Clark_SSWI000000009609092C

Another environmental variable that Clare was interested in was vegetative greenness. Vegetative greenness is, from space, how green the landscape looks. In the spring, trees will start to bud burst, and the grass will grow. The landscape itself will just be greener than the previous months, and more nutritional energy will flood into the food web. Vegetative greenness varies throughout the year and can impact how animals use the land, depending on when and where food is available.

For example, a black bear’s seasonal activity could reflect the cycle of vegetative greenness. Black bears maximize their activity at times of the year when there are more food resources around, either plants or prey. These times of the year may strongly correlate to peak greenness of the landscape, or so Clare theorized.

But you might be thinking, “Wait, can the Snapshot cameras measure vegetative greenness and snow depth from the trail camera photos?” The answer is possible, but more research is needed before we can use the cameras that way. Instead, Clare used daily satellite images of the state to calculate vegetative greenness and snow depth.

Linking Satellites with Snapshot Wisconsin

Clare used satellite images from NASA to measure snow depth and vegetative greenness. Part of Clare’s assistantship position was funded by a NASA grant whose purpose was to figure out ways to integrate a continuous stream of animal observations with a continuous stream of Earth observations coming from space. Between the trail camera data and the satellite data, Clare aimed to find connections that were meaningful to wildlife management.

Consider winter severity in deer population modeling, for example. Winter severity is already used by the DNR to predict the impact of winter on deer populations and plays a partial role in making harvest decisions for the subsequent fall. One hope of the NASA collaboration was to develop more integrated measures like winter severity for deer overwintering, especially ones that impact multiple species in similar ways.

Using the images from satellites passing over the state, Clare derived data on land use, surface temperature, vegetative greenness and snow depth. All of these variables were tested across spatial and temporal scales for all classifiable species.

Fox_Red_Waukesha_SSWI000000007462874

Confirmation and Surprise

Clare wanted to share two results from his dissertation with the Snapshot community. One of these results was a confirmation of what he expected, but the other was surprising and took longer for him to wrap his head around.

“I wasn’t surprised that snow depth was a major negative driver of species activity,” Clare said. “We expected that because snow provides a refuge for some species [and a signal for other behavioral changes like hibernation].” These behavior changes cause sightings of these species to drop off during the winter and strengthens the negative correlation between snow depth and species activity. Snow is also associated with winter, when species tend to be less active to conserve energy resources.

What was more surprising was that the peak period of species activity was not associated with the peak of the growing season, or when the land was at its greenest. Clare expected these two peaks to match because there would be a maximum amount of food on the landscape. However, after some rethinking, Clare came up with a new theory about why peak activity wasn’t at peak greenness. “What we [now] think is happening is that animals don’t have to move around as much during the peak of the growing season. They don’t have to go as far to find food. It is all in one
aisle,” Clare said.

As for linking satellite data with wildlife data, snow depth and vegetative greenness both were the best predictors of species distribution and activity out of the environmental variables Clare tested. Even though vegetative greenness didn’t function how he predicted it would, it still was a good predictor of community activity and distribution. Both of these variables showed promise as potential satellite-based metrics that NASA and the DNR can use to better predict how the environment is impacting the greater wildlife community.

What’s Next?

Now that Snapshot Wisconsin has a few years of data across most of the state, Snapshot will start looking into broader trends like year-to-year weather variation and how species habitat associations may vary from year-to-year.

“As we anticipate global changes, including more extreme events like polar vortexes, heavy rain and droughts, there is a need to understand how species react to different weather phenomenon. By looking at how species are distributed at finer time scales, we can start to address those types of questions. That wasn’t the exact focus of my research, but my research can help us start to quantify what [counts] as an extreme event for different species,” explained Clare. However, that work will be done by someone else, since Clare has graduated and moved to California.

Clare took a moment to reflect on his years working with Snapshot Wisconsin. Clare said, “My favorite part has been seeing the broader project move from a concept to an operating system. It has been really exciting to see that dream come to fruition. Most of that credit is due to the folks on the Snapshot team like Jen Stenglein and Christine Anhalt-Depies.”

Clare was also appreciative of the community of volunteers that sustain Snapshot Wisconsin. “It has been rewarding to see so many Wisconsin residents get involved,” said Clare. “I’ve been blown away with how smoothly and effectively it all has worked.”

With Clare moving on to the next step of his career, the Snapshot team wishes him the best and thanks him for helping the program get set up and running, as well as his contributions on the research side of Snapshot.

Thanks John Clare, and good luck!

Partnering with the Natural Resources Foundation and a New Snapshot Store!

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator Ryan Bower for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.

Some of our volunteers may already know that Snapshot Wisconsin recently partnered with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF), but we at Snapshot haven’t shared many of the details about this partnership yet, including new opportunities available to volunteers and a Snapshot merchandise store!

Christine Anhalt-Depies, Project Coordinator for Snapshot Wisconsin, virtually sat down with Cait Williamson, Director of Conservation Programs within the NRF, to chat about what this partnership means to their programs, as well as highlight how their volunteers benefit from this partnership.

What is the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin?

The NRF is a non-profit foundation that is all about funding conservation work. The NRF has a long history of supporting the DNR’s priority projects, especially those that involve species with the greatest conservation need. The NRF also connects people to conservation opportunities throughout the state through their Field Trip program, the Great Wisconsin Birdathon and many other funded programs.

The NRF was established in 1986 after significant cuts to the DNR budget. The DNR leadership at the time recognized a need to have an independent foundation to bridge private sector support for natural resources and conservation work being done, so the NRF grew to fill that need.
Williamson added, “We support over 200 different projects each year from small-scale school projects to large-scale conservation projects, even [projects] at the federal level. Our niche is conservation funding, leveraging resources from corporations, foundations and individuals. Putting those financial resources to the highest priority conservation needs for Wisconsin.”

Snapshot Wisconsin fits well into the types of projects that the NRF funds, so this partnership was a natural fit. Plus, forming this partnership had a special twist in store for Anhalt-Depies and Williamson.

A logo for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin

Forming this Partnership

Anhalt-Depies and Williamson first sat down over coffee over a year ago to discuss forming this partnership. However, the meeting was more than just a brainstorming session about what the partnership would look like. It was a reunion for Anhalt-Depies and Williamson.

The pair first met while Anhalt-Depies was working on her project for her master’s degree nearly a decade ago. Part of the project involved radio-collaring wolves, so Anhalt-Depies collaborated with the DNR. Meanwhile, Williamson was an intern with the DNR, assigned to work with the wolf program. Anhalt-Depies and Williamson worked together very closely for months until the field work was done, then they went their separate ways.

Anhalt-Depies later went on to work with Snapshot Wisconsin and eventually became the project coordinator. On the other hand, Williamson started working at the NRF and became the one who builds partnerships with the DNR (and other conservation or education groups), as well as determines what the NRF’s priorities are. Williamson said, “I have the fun job of giving away the funds we help raise and knowing those are going to have the most impact they can.”

Anhalt-Depies explained what motivated her to reach out to Williamson again. “As Snapshot grew to a state-wide program, we identified the need to partner with groups that could help us expand our reach, especially in the area of supporting education. NRF seems like a natural fit, based on their goals and mission. I reached out to [Williamson]. We sat down and had a great brainstorming session about what a partnership between the two would look like and how we could help each other reach our goals.”

Williamson added, “It was fun to reconnect with [Anhalt-Depies]. We [at the NRF] have heard about and been informally in-the-loop on Snapshot Wisconsin, so it seemed like a natural fit because of what Snapshot is – engaging people and providing critical data. It was a no brainer for us.”

“It’s awesome to be able to offer yet another opportunity for our members and our partners to engage with Wisconsin’s natural resources,” said Williamson, and engage, they can. Not only do Snapshot volunteers benefit, but so do the NRF’s members.

How do Snapshot Volunteers and NRF’s Members Benefit?

Anhalt-Depies shared how this partnership benefits Snapshot volunteers. “This partnership helps expand our reach,” said Anhalt-Depies. “It brings the Snapshot program to a new audience, helping us to continue to grow.”

Anhalt-Depies continued, “The fundraising support NRF brings to the partnership will also help to increase our educational impact. Roughly 15% of Snapshot volunteers are educators. This partnership will expand the resources available to these educators, helping them to better integrate conservation education into their classroom.”

At the same time, the NRF and its members benefit from connecting to Snapshot Wisconsin. Williamson said, “From a conservation side, we [the NRF] are all about supporting priority needs for our state. Science-based conservation and the data that informs it is super critical, so we are happy to be able to support Snapshot and growing the program.”

“For our members, Snapshot Wisconsin is a really good way to connect them with something they can do,” continued Williamson. “Whether they are hosting cameras or classifying images on Zooniverse, it gives them one more way that they can give back to Wisconsin’s natural resources.”

A blue sweatshirt with the Snapshot Wisconsin design

A Message From Our NRF Partners

Another important way that the NRF is helping Snapshot Wisconsin is through providing funding opportunities, either through donations or merchandise sales. Our partners shared with us a special message for Snapshot volunteers, announcing these new ways to help out the Snapshot program.

At the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, we believe that nature has inherent value and that people have the ability to make a difference. We are the bridge connecting people who want to help with meaningful opportunities to make a lasting impact on Wisconsin’s lands, waters, wildlife and future stewards. We are very excited about our new partnership with Snapshot Wisconsin, which will connect our NRF members with meaningful volunteer opportunities, directly fund efforts that inform conservation decisions and help us learn more about Wisconsin’s amazing wildlife.

Want to show off your love for Snapshot Wisconsin and help support this incredible program? Check out our Snapshot Wisconsin storefront, featuring t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and mugs – every purchase directly supports Snapshot! You can also donate directly by visiting
WisConservation.org/donate and designating your gift to Snapshot Wisconsin.

Between connecting our volunteers to the resources of the NRF network and new funding to expand what Snapshot is able to do, the Snapshot team is excited for this partnership. There is so much synergy between Snapshot’s goals and NRF’s mission that this partnership is a natural fit.

The partnership has also brought back together Anhalt-Depies and Williamson, and each shared some parting words for readers.

Williamson said, “Five years back, we had a visioning session about what we were really accomplishing for conservation in the state. We are not the boots on the ground ourselves, but what we do is connect people to that. There are so many ways people can make a difference. Whether it is through philanthropy, volunteering their time or just the personal choices they make to support our state’s natural resources… We are all about how people can make a difference, and Snapshot is one of those ways.”

Anhalt-Depies added, “Snapshot is people-powered research. We have thousands of volunteers who are donating their time and making a huge impact on the number of photos collected and total information gathered on our state’s natural resources. This partnership with the NRF helps to make their efforts go just a bit further, and at the end of the day, that is what matters.”

The Snapshot Team’s Favorite Photos from the First 50 Million!

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator Ryan Bower for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.

Snapshot Wisconsin recently reached an important milestone: its 50 millionth photo! We’ve been watching the tally of photos get closer and closer to 50 million for the last few months, and we are thrilled that the moment is finally here.

Snapshot Wisconsin started as a pilot program in only two counties in 2016 but expanded statewide in 2018. Today, we have over 1,800 volunteers, monitoring over 2,100 trail cameras across the state. Furthermore, the Snapshot program receives approximately 45,000 photos per day from all these cameras. Just stop and think about how incredible that is!

As a thank you to everyone who has helped the program out or followed its success (and to celebrate the 50 millionth photo milestone), the Snapshot Wisconsin team selected some of their favorite photos from the first 50 million and used them to build an interactive map of Wisconsin. This tool highlights each photo and tells a short story about the photo itself or the species shown. It serves as a “snapshot” of how the program has grown over the years.

Rare species sightings, unusual animal behaviors, species facts, and even a few multi-species encounters can all be seen in the interactive map. Check it out!

A collage of wildlife photos in the shape of Wisconsin

Rare Species Update: Moose Sightings

Moose are considered a rare species in the state of Wisconsin. They used to be found across the northern part of the state, but there hasn’t been an established population since the early 1900s1. Sightings of moose that wander over from Michigan or Minnesota are occasionally reported, but still rare.

That’s why our team was excited to discover several recent moose photos on our Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras. We captured our first moose photo back in 2018 in Vilas County. In the past two months, we’ve had four additional sightings across several counties. It is unclear if this is the same individual, or several different moose.

Below are some photos of the moose captured in Iron, Price, and Burnett Counties.

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We interviewed some volunteers who recently captured these moose photos on their Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras. Steve from Price County said, “My initial reaction was complete shock. This camera check had been especially fruitful, and I had gone through quite a few pictures when the moose showed up on my screen. It was so drastically different in size and color to the deer we had been seeing up until that point that it took a second for my brain to process what I was looking at. My wife was sitting next to me and we both realized what it was at about the same time. I think she was even more excited about it than I was! We know there are moose that have been occasionally spotted in the state, but we never dreamed we would see one in our own backyard!”

When asked if seeing a rare species has impacted his experience as a Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer, Steve said, “It’s been a lot of fun this whole time but seeing a rare animal like this first-hand really makes it more exciting. The thought that we could potentially see something like this again is a great motivator!”

Amanda from Iron County said she was ecstatic when she first saw the moose pictures. “Even though it took nearly a year for me to finally capture a moose, I have spent countless hours hiking to and from my Snapshot camera and each trip out is an adventure. I feel blessed to live in such a beautiful area and enjoy such amazing wildlife, but the moose in particular have really drawn me in, and I am so lucky to live in an area where we can see them.”

Thank you to all of our volunteers who host trail cameras and help classify photos on Zooniverse. Your work helps us collect important wildlife data! If you’ve recently seen a rare species such as a moose, cougar, or lynx, please report it using the DNR’s Large Mammal Observation form.

1. Watermolen, D. Murrell, M. Checklists of Wisconsin Vertebrates. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2001. p 38.

Falling Into Field Work in the Flambeau

The Snapshot Wisconsin team recently completed a second round of elk camera fieldwork in the Flambeau River State Forest. Below, Michael Kamp describes his field work experience along with his Snapshot teammate, Jamie Bugel.

The late morning sun was beginning to peek out as the Flambeau River glided serenely by. I watched downed maple leaves, their edges curled up, drifting down the river to unknown destinations. No boats traveled by this early fall morning. Taking one last look at the silent flow, Jamie and I walked back to our separate vehicles. Field work could not wait forever.

A river and trees

Nearby the Chippewa River. Photo by Ally Magnin.

After coasting down County Highway M, all the while on alert for crossing elk, we pulled off onto a gravel road. Shortly down the gravel road we parked in front of a gate to a walking trail. Stepping out of my vehicle, I gazed down the corridor of stunning fall colors. Auburn, golden, and rosy hues led the way to the site of our trail camera deployment. We strode down the path, following our GPS, towards the specific coordinates. A raven flew overhead cawing loudly – much throatier than its cousin the crow. Once we were within 20 meters, we veered off the treeless path to work our way through downed branches and a cluster of aspen trees. We selected a paper birch tree within a couple meters of the GPS point and positioned the trail camera facing north.

Truck and Subaru in front of trees

Field work vehicles parked in Flambeau River State Forest. Photos by Jamie Bugel (left) and Michael Kamp (right).

Next on the schedule was checking a trail camera down Lost Mile Road – a fitting name for such a lane far removed from town streets and city blocks. The sun now shone high above as the Subaru took the bumps and puddles of Lost Mile Road in rhythm. Once again, a metal gate impeded any vehicles hoping to pass, so Jamie and I continued on foot. This trail camera was further from the walking path, through swaying sandy brown grass and over the occasional muddy spot. A couple of eastern hemlocks, seemingly out of place in this open area, stood sentinel as we checked the trail camera. The batteries replaced and SD card in hand, we trekked back to our vehicles.   

Snapshot team member hiking in woods

Snapshot team member walking to trail camera. Photo by Ally Magnin.

Using the bed of Jamie’s pickup truck as an impromptu table, we ate a pleasant lunch before heading to the following trail camera. We drove a short way as a light breeze swirled fallen leaves on and off the road. The trail camera lay a couple hundred meters south of this gravel way.  We headed into the woods, ducking under dense shrubbery and paused to marvel at a towering yellow birch tree. Maybe elk wandered beneath that tree’s branches in the late 1800’s before they were extirpated from the state. After reintroduction efforts and over 100 years later, the same tree might experience elk again. Moving on, we found the trail camera without much difficulty, lying just above a small marsh. Another trail camera checked.

Checking the last trail camera for the day passed in much the same manner – hiking quietly through the forest undisturbed by anyone else. Walking back from the trail camera, we lingered on the crest of a hill to observe the late afternoon sun. The brilliant rays pierced a forest opening and illuminated our surroundings in a golden glow. A photo could simply not do the scene justice. However, I can still picture that scene. Rather than a digital likeness, it is instead an enduring image etched in my mind’s eye.

A road with trees

Views from Flambeau River State Forest. Photo by Ally Magnin.

When I think back to that sunny Friday during the tail end of September, I do not solely think about the trail cameras checked and data collected. I think about a day where Jamie and I had no cell service. There were no pings from our phones regarding news alerts or social media posts. There were no interruptions from the outside world. There was only a radio to call for help if needed. The gift of that day was we were truly present in the moment. That was the experience of fall in the Flambeau.